A most valuable discovery

As a kid I used to dream about finding my way into some ancient attic and unearthing boxes and boxes full of old baseball cards. For whatever reason, I imagined I’d need to be on the East Coast somewhere, which made the fantasy all the less attainable coming from my West Coast mind, but it was still fun to picture thumbing through these old stacks of cards and finding Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio if not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner.

While this dream of mine never did come true, I did have the pleasure of meeting a fellow collector this year whose real life experience came awfully close.

David grew up in the Kansas City area but lives in Phoenix these days. Like me, he fell for card collecting hook, line, and sinker from the moment he was introduced to his first baseball cards, despite the fact he barely knew a thing about baseball or any of the players. While my love affair with cards and baseball began with 1978 Topps, David got going five years earlier and still remembers the thrill of pulling a 1973 Topps Hank Aaron card.

David was mainly a Hank Aaron and Kansas City Royals collector early on and started a paper route to feed his fix for packs. Once Hank Aaron retired, David branched out into the older stuff, mainly pursuing pre-1973 Hank Aaron cards and other stars he’d heard about from his dad. David was even lucky enough to have a teacher at school who would trade old 1950s cards for contemporary stars. While these swaps usually worked in David’s favor, he harbors at least some regret over a 1975 Gary Carter RC for 1955 Topps Tom Hurd swap.

Fast forward a bit and David eventually headed off to college. Like so many other collectors he left his cards at home–Hank Aaron, George Brett, Tom Hurd, and all. With David away at school his parents downsized and moved most of his stuff into storage. After his father passed away, David’s mother forgot about the storage unit, whose contents were ultimately sold off to the highest bidder.

The end. Right?

Not quite. I’ll let David’s twitter bio take over from here.

“Recently found my entire card collection I thought was long lost. Sharing my find w/twitter…”

While I grew up dreaming of finding boxes and boxes full of incredible cards, David actually did it. The twist, of course, is that the boxes he found were his own!

Evidently, David’s dad didn’t want to put the cards in storage and had a friend of his hang onto them instead. David remained in contact with this family friend, who one day, decades later, remembered he had a bunch of boxes somewhere with David’s name on them.

David’s first few twitter posts as “Cigarbox Cards” definitely got my attention!

The first card David posted was a well loved 1956 Topps card of Mr. Cub. The next day David posted a video of himself rifling through stacks of cards including early Topps issues of Gary Carter (but not the 1975!) and Dennis Eckersley while a 1949 Leaf Ted Williams sat untouched in the distance.

An autographed Yaz rookie was next, followed by a Red Man Willie Mays. In the days that followed David posted a Brett RC mini, a 1954 Bowman Mickey Mantle, and a 1974 Topps Tom Seaver. I always enjoyed the way David juxtaposed his featured finds with background elements that enhanced their presentation. This is a theme we’ll come back to shortly when I show you what David’s up to now.

Most of the online replies consisted of emojis like 😱 and 🔥 🔥 🔥 but I suspect certain collectors were wondering if David’s cigar box finds included any really good cards.

Then David dropped the Hammer.

And even more Hammer! (Click blue arrow twice to activate.)

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Though the cards are not mine, I still feel a thrill each time David posts an amazing card from his original collection. To think how close these cards came to being lost forever and then to see them pop up in my twitter feed is downright magical. It’s like flipping through my own personal attic find, even if the cards aren’t mine to keep–just like the dreams I had as a kid right down to waking up in the morning with the same collection I had before!

Beyond showing off some great cards David introduced some fun interactive features to his posts, among them his “Out or Hit” series…

…or his “In Action” baseball card gifs.

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Of course it was only a matter of time before this happened.

The cards kept coming and coming, almost obscenely so, but what really caught the eye of many collectors was the creative ways David was finding to display his cards, something many of us spend undue time considering.

Here’s another one that really caught my eye with bonus points for the bunting!

And if you’re wondering what the most creative use for a yellow drinking straw in a baseball card collection is…

Or for the Yankee fans…

I could go on and on, but you’d probably have more fun scrolling through all David’s posts yourself. Other than of course SABR Baseball Cards 🤣, it’s hard to think of another baseball card account as consistently awesome as his.

As I consider his collecting story I come back once again to my own and that of so many other collectors. How many of us dreamed of that elusive find, those boxes and boxes of cards filled with stars of yesteryear? If you’re like me, not only did that imagined cardboard haul never arrive but even the cards you did have were nowhere to be found by the time you realized you missed them.

What I didn’t know when I shuffled through my 1978-80 Topps cards as a kid was that the boxes right in front of me would someday be more valuable than any cards I might find elsewhere. Even today the memories of those cards mean more to me than the actual cards I’ve purchased since.

This post (below, right) from David makes the point well and was ultimately the catalyst for my writing this article.

Let’s face it. You can dream all you want about things you don’t have, but few fantasies or realities will ever come close to that of your first love, whether lost, lasting, or in David’s case both.

Author’s note: For another SABR Baseball Cards article inspired by collectors’ online posts, see “Fathers and Sons.”

Endless stream of cards and magazines

Picking up a Street and Smith Yearbook from the newsstand or drug store was an annual rite of spring for many baseball fans.  Since ESPN and the internet were nowhere in sight, annuals were one way to obtain updated rosters and prognostications for the upcoming season.  Of course, the information was several months old by the time it reached the magazine rack. However, those of us in a non-Major League markets or rural areas especially relied on these publications to set the stage for the season.

In the 1970s, Street and Smith produced regional covers designed to attract fans of the local team.  Prior to the Mariners arrival in 1977, Washington State baseball fans received covers featuring California teams.  For instance, I bought this 1976 edition with Davey Lopes on the cover.  But New England fans would find the same content covered with the photo of 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP, Fred Lynn.

While looking through both versions, I was drawn to the advertisements for sports card dealers. Obviously, sports magazines were an excellent method of reaching the customer base.  The 1976 Street and Smith Yearbook has numerous ads for dealers across the nation.

For example, mail order stalwart (still going strong in 2019) Larry Fritsch Cards in Stevens Point, WI, has an ad. The 1976 Fritsch ad is filled with tempting choices including the complete 1976 Topps baseball set for $12.95 plus postage.  This is on the expensive side, since most of the other ads offer the set for less.  Incidentally, $12.95 in 1976 dollars has the buying power of $58.44 today.  Thus, a kid had to mow several lawns or, in my case, return a huge number of beer bottles to the recycler to afford the complete set.

I distinctly remember ordering my 1976 complete set from G. S. Gallery in Coopersburg, PA.  The set was $7.95, plus a dollar postage.  I remember the postal worker (Mr. Copeland-it’s a small town) at the Selah, WA, post office having to redo the money order after accidentally putting “Cooperstown” on it instead of Coopersburg.  By the way, $8.95 has the 2019 buying power of $40.39 when adjusted for inflation.

Two other dealers in the magazine offer examples of the price range for the complete set.  Stan Martucci of Staten Island-who urges buyers to “Go with Experience” based on his 22 years in the business-priced his set at a whopping $14.  Meanwhile, collectors could shell out $9.99 to obtain the same cards from the only West Coast dealer in the magazine, Will Davis of Fairfield, CA.

In addition to new sets, the dealers offered sets from previous years.  Wholesale Cards of Georgetown, CT, offered complete sets from the 1970s in all four major sports.  Plus, you could pick up Topps Civil War, 1966 English Soccer or the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set.

Another merchant with a tantalizing selection of cards was Paul E. Marchant of Charleston, IL. The 1964 Topps “Giant” set was available for only $3.00. Also, SSPC sets could be had along with an address list for autograph seekers.

This ad uses the card of Glenn Abbott as an example for the 1976 set.  An odd choice since Glenn was just starting out.  I must point out that he would be the “ace” of the original Seattle Mariners in 1977, winning 13 games.  At the time, his win total tied the record for most wins on an expansion team.  The first to do it was Seattle Pilots hurler, Gene “Lerch” Brabender.

The Sports Hobbyist in Detroit offered a different way for collectors to obtain a complete set of 660 Topps cards in 1976.  For $10, they sent 1,000 cards and guaranteed that “just about” a complete set could be assembled.  A 50-cent coupon was included to purchase up to 40 cards to help complete the set.

Once a complete set was obtained, the collector needed some place to store the cards.  A nifty tote box, divided into 26 compartments, was one solution.  It was available for a mere $4.00 from ATC Sports Products of Duluth, MN.

Along the same lines, a Major League Baseball card locker could be had from the Royal Advertising Corp. for $2.95, plus 36 cents postage.  You could even send cash!  Note that Seattle Pilots outfielder Steve Whitaker’s 1967 card on the Yankees is front and center in the ad.

Although cards are not offered, there is an ad for the hobby publication, “The Trader Speaks.” I never subscribed to this trade paper but went with “Sports Collectors’ Digest” instead.

One negative feature of all these offers was the fact you had to wait four to six weeks to receive the merchandize in 1976.  There was no expectation for faster service, and no reason given for the protracted processing time.  My recollection was that it always seemed to take closer to six weeks than four.  This process explains why I am such a patient man to this day.

I will close with two advertisements that were ubiquitous in magazines of this era:  Manny’s Baseball Land and Charles Atlas.  Manny’s had the same format for years with many of the same products offered as well.  Of course, Charles Atlas offered to “make a man out of Mac” for decades.  I’m still trying to get his body building method to work, and I’m damned tired of bullies kicking sand in my face at the beach!

What awaits your collection?

One of the unexpected things about becoming a co-chair of this committee and blog has been seeing what kind of emails get sent to the contact link. We get a few marketing/merchandising proposals which Jason and I discard because we want our content and the links we tweet out to be clearly from us (where us is either the co-chairs or the organic nature of the blog). But we also get genuinely interesting questions from people about the hobby.

Earlier this week we received the following note. While I was responding to it I realized that the questions it was asking were the kind of things that many of us on the blog have started thinking about and that my response would be better as a post where other people can add their thoughts in the comments.

I am a disabled, and terminal, US Navy veteran.  I’m bedridden and am looking to rekindle my baseball card collecting.  My collection that I had 45 years ago is long gone, so I thought I would start again to relieve my boredom and anxiety over what awaits me.

I also want to have something to leave to my grandson when I’m gone.

My question for you is, what is the best way to start?  Do I look for cheap sets to purchase or send someone to yard sales in search of inexpensive cards?  I have a small fixed income and am unable to spend a lot. I’m not looking for cards of value.  Just basic cards to my collection again.

Any suggestions or direction would be greatly appreciated.

The question about starting (or restarting) in the hobby is a fun one that I know we all have thoughts on. However the way this particular email framed that question by expressing a desire to create something worth passing on to his grandson is what got my brain ticking.

It’s a great question that I know many of us have started thinking about. What happens to our collections when we go? Not all of us have children or grandchildren who collect. Many of us have tens or hundreds of thousands of cards in storage. They’re meaningful to us but they’re likely junk or a burden to our loved ones.

My previous post about chronicling my sons’ adventures ended with my thinking and planning on writing up essays on why I collected what I do. Why a set is meaningful to me. How and when I got an autograph. Why I’ve chosen the personal collections I’ve chosen.

If I were to wipe out my existing collection and start anew with the goal of passing something on to my kids or grandchildren? I’d go even harder at making it autobiographical. Write my story first—my first game, my favorite players, my fondest baseball memories. Then find cards that illustrated those events.

I know I loved finding old stuff at my grandmother’s house. The old cards I found there are some of my most-prized possessions yet they’re also really thin on memories. I remember them fondly because I found them. But I don’t know who collected them or why. The older I get the more I wish I had the stories that went with them.

Receiving a box of cards from my grandfather would’ve been great. Being able to listen to or read his stories about the players and why he collected them though would have been priceless.

After all, that’s really the joy of collecting and why this blog exists. It’s not about value or investing. It’s about how baseball and card collecting connects generations. That guys who collected in the 1950s can talk to kids collecting now and have a hobby in common. That cards are cards are cards and while the details of how sets are released and how cards are made are vastly different, at the end of the day it comes down to pictures of players and talking about who we got to see play.

Fun Buttons, Not Food

I asked people to send me their “junk wax” faves at the end of this post on Fleer Classic Miniatures and I got a lot of solid suggestions. The 1985 Fun Foods set was one, and I took it to heart. I am now the proud owner of a complete 133 button set.

I was not unaware of the Fun Foods set; I’ve always had a soft spot for it. I’ve had the Seaver button, and only the Seaver button, for decades.

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The beauty of this little item was not lost on me, but I never went for the whole set. Not a cost issue, the set should run $20 tops, more of a storage issue. Where would I put 133 buttons – in a box? In sheets? I really couldn’t figure it out, so I passed.

When I started pursuing the 1964 and 1971 Topps coins sets, I ended up with some coin sheets whose pockets were too small. Too small for the coins, but perfect for the buttons! (Never throw anything out!). Here’s how they display:

It’s a super attractive set – the colors are vibrant, the photos are sharp, the checklist is terrifically 1984/1985.

They’re thick enough that my binder won’t close now, but I’m not worried. It’s a binder full of metal discs, not cardboard. No bent corners here!

I won’t claim to doing much looking into this issue: they were sold as complete sets and in packs of three, though I never saw those packs in the wild. As to Fun Foods, I have no idea what they did, or made, or how much fun their product may or may not have been. Maybe all they made were the buttons, maybe the buttons were meant to be eaten. I have no idea (though don’t do that.)

Whatever business Fun Foods was in is of no matter to me. They made cool buttons, I now have them all, and that’s enough for me.

It Was 47 Years Ago Today (Give or Take)

I’ve been spending a lot of time in 1972 the last week, the first year I completed the full Topps set (and the last year that brand new, very old Mets’ pitching coach Phil Regan had his LAST card as a player.)

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The week began with a little Father’s Day present to myself – a binder and box of sheets. I tend not to put complete baseball sets I already have in binders. I reserve that for sets I’m building. It’s so much easier to put a recently acquired card or two in a binder than pull out a box that is, invariably, in a logistically hard to get place. However, in the interests of maximally efficient storage, a binder for the ‘72s was necessary.

It’s a set I love more for what it reminds me of than how it looks (though I like how it looks). We had moved to the middle of Suffolk County, Long Island (Lake Grove to be exact) in December 1971. It was a hard move to make, going from Brooklyn in 1971 to LI stuck in 1961. By spring and summer of 1972 it was getting better for me, but the baseball cards of that year were my best medicine. I can see myself on the concrete pad outside our front door opening a full box of packs, my greatest youthful extravagance, $2.40 of cobbled together loose change brought much joy.

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Looking at the sets 9-card pages at a time, brought to mind a constant question of mine. Why is the last series so much brighter looking?

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One Twitterer commented that he thought “The later series were much clearer images than many found in the first few. It looks like there is a blue filter on many of the earlier 1972 cards. This photography was done in spring training.” Here’s #130, Bill Freehan.

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Another collector thought, maybe, that Topps used different card stock at the end of the baseball line, as they turned to football. They don’t feel any different, but I don’t know.

It seemed like the 6th series never made it to me (similar to the 1972 3rd Series Football, though less extreme). I bought tons of packs back then, so there’s no reason I can think of why I have only three doubles. I ended up buying the whole series after the season ended and, weirdly, the toughest series is my best condition one.

And, speaking of doubles, I sold 492 cards this morning to a friend who only recently found out I collected cards. As my wife said afterwards, collecting is so intrinsic to who I am, it’s amazing everyone doesn’t know. Funny, you all do, but many people who I know well don’t. That says something about me, though I’m not sure what.

I have been selling cards lately, but there’s something extra nice of getting them to someone who really wants or needs them. My friend now has a nice running start on a set in EX or EXMT condition, and he got to pick from multiples for the card he liked best.

I don’t think almost 10 year old me would have liked parting with those cards, but almost 57 year old me approves.

Blink of an eye

This year I enrolled my sons in the Trenton Thunder’s Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s a great deal. Tickets to eleven games for the three of us plus fun activities and a tshirt* for $45. I knew we wouldn’t be able to make the games in July and August because of summer plans but even just going to the games through June it would be worth it.

*Shirt and activities for kids only.

We’ve now been to seven games this season (six with the kids club plus a Little League fundraiser night) and it’s been awesome. The boys have gotten two shirts, a jersey, a frisbee, and a pennant. They’ve had a chance to throw out the first pitch, walk around the field, be part of a high-five tunnel for the players, and watch The Sandlot on the outfield after a game. We’ve even been tossed five baseballs. Oh yeah and the games have been good. The Thunder are a decent team and it’s been a lot of fun to watch the boys learn the players and really get into following the season.

They’re also completely hooked on the hobby—especially autograph collecting. This is all me and my interests rubbing off on them. They’ve seen me write TTM requests and get cards signed at Trenton Thunder games and they want to join me. So I indulge them.

Not too much. I supply cards and pens (for now) but they have to do the requesting. I’m not going to flag a player down for them or ask on their behalf. I’ll help spot guys but the boys need to learn how to approach players, make the request, and say thank you. We’ve started off pretty simple by just focusing on the Trenton players and visiting coaches. As a result their autograph binders are pretty eclectic.

My youngest’s binder is organized alphabetically by first name. His idea. It’s a wonderfully random bunch of cards.* Seven Thunder players. Five coaches. And one card that Marc Brubaker mailed to him. I find myself wondering how much a first grader even cares about people like Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, or Matt LeCroy. These aren’t guys he knows. Some, like LeCroy, aren’t even guys I’d really talk to them about.** But they’re in the binder and he’s super-excited to show them off.

*Unless you make the Eastern League connection.

**Even though the Frank Robinson story is pretty touching

Can he tell you about the players? Only what he knows by turning the cards over. But he’s into this as a hobby even though he’s, so far, just tagging along with me.

His brother’s binder is pretty similar except that his one TTM return is in there and there are a couple 1991 Topps cards that he pulled from his own binder because he got the set for Christmas last year. As a result he has a bit more of a connection to guys like Harper and Oliver but LeCroy, Mark Johnson, and Mike Rabelo are all ciphers to him.

As the season’s progressed I’ve been questioning what it means to collect autographs of guys you’ve never heard of and second-guessing the importance of what I’ve gotten my kids into. Are they excited only because I’m excited? Am I pushing them to do something that only means something to me?

I jumped into the hobby in 1987. I bailed in 1994. Not a long period of time but it felt like forever. And in a way it was. Not only did those years represent half my lifetime by the time I stopped, they covered most of my years in school—pretty much my entire youth.

Now, 25 years later as a father, I’m seeing things from the other side. What was a lifetime when I was a kid is already flashing by in the blink of an eye. I know I only have a handful of years where my sons will legitimately share my interests. Yes legitimately. At the end of the day I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter why they’re interested in the hobby, the fact that they are and that we’re able to share it is what matters.

My two boys love collecting and everything it entails. Getting cards. Sorting cards.* Re-sorting cards.** Showing me their cards. Asking for new cards. Etc. Etc. It’s great. It reminds me of being a kid and it inspires me to document their adventures so that in a decade or two when they look back at their collection they’ll have my thoughts and memories to go with their memories of those years when the three of us were enjoying baseball together.

*On the floor as God intended.

**One day will be by number, the next by team, the next by last name, the next by first name.

I get to experience what I put my mom through, how patient she was, and how much she enjoyed seeing me get excited by the hobby. She kept a journal which I eventually turned into a book so that we could all have copies. I still enjoy rereading her essays and I’m looking forward to my boys reading them too.

Instead of journalling I’m blogging about our adventures and putting together summaries of events we’ve gone too. Like when we went to the Thunder Open House I took photos of their baseballs and printed out a letter-sized sheet for their binders. I’ll do the same thing with their haul of autographed cards for the season since I know they’ll re-sort them multiple times in the future.

It’ll always be important to have the biographical breakdown of their collection. As my sons get older, their cards and autographs will increasingly become markers for their memories rather than just objects to collect and hoard. The memories they’re attached to is what makes them special. It’s why I collect and why I hope they keep collecting.

In fact, I’ve been inspired to start doing the same thing for my cards and autographs. I know I’m going to be passing  everything on to my sons. I also know that “all dad’s stuff’ will be nowhere near as memorable as having an introduction to a given collection or set which explains who I was when I got these and why the set was important to me. This is a big project but I’m looking forward to it.

Of Life, Death and Dave Ricketts

I began collecting cards in 1968, which was the year Topps featured the 33-card, game insert set.  Our “Founding Father,” Mark Armour, detailed this wonderful set in a past post.  My older brother and I played the game using our regular issue cards to represent the lineup.  We would position the cards in the proper positions on defense and have the card of the batter next to the catcher.  If the player registered a hit when the game card was turned over, his card was moved to the correct base.  Of course, this movement damaged the cards, which is why I have replaced most of them over the years.

For my brother’s 30th birthday in 1987, I had a photo mat cut to represent the nine positions.  I had the frame shop insert the Cardinals’ starting line up using 1968 cards. This set up was like the card arrangement we used as kids. I even included manager Red Schoendienst, as if he were in the dugout directing his charges.

In side note, my brother could never get Tim McCarver in a pack, and Lou Brock was in the seventh series-which never made it to our small town.  Thus, his lineup always featured Dave Ricketts at catcher and Bobby Tolan in left field.

My brother was a lifelong Cardinals fan, probably the result of my family hailing from Missouri.  Of course, St. Louis beat Boston in the World Series in ’67 and won the NL pennant in ’68, losing to the Tigers in the fall classic.  The card collection represented two of my brother’s favorite Cardinals teams.

68 Celebrate

Honestly, I have always been disappointed in the appearance of the framed cards.  There is too much green space and the shortstop would have looked better not angled.  In any event, my brother liked and appreciated the gift.  Over the years, he added a team picture and the World Series celebration cards by taping them to the glass in hard sleeves.  (Pilot sighting! Joe Schultz’s bald head and smiling face is clearly visible on the “Cardinals Celebrate!” card.)

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After my brother’s death in 2015, I inherited his vast memorabilia collection-including the framed ’68 Cardinals cards. Unfortunately, the glass broke during shipping, but the rest remained intact.  Since I have a curator’s soul and a hoarder’s mindset, I was compelled to fill in the unused green space.  Using mostly the original cards from ’68 and ’69, I added most the players who appeared on the ’67 World Championship team.  A $0.79 Larry Jaster card was the only one I had to acquire.

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Also, note that the two Cardinals from the game insert are included as well.  Orlando Cepeda is from the deck we used to play the game, back in the day.

Picture 3

Since I have maxed out the available wall space in my memorabilia room, I do not have a place for this piece. It sits in the card closet and serves as a frequent reminder of my brother.  We didn’t connect on many levels, but we could always find common ground with sports, memorabilia and most importantly, cards.

A Summer Project Aiming to Yield a “C”

As a Cubs fan, I’ve maintained a small baseball-card collection of the team’s players. Some are from my and my brother’s childhood collection in the late 1960s and early 1970s, others are from store-bought packs in recent years, and still others are from card-dealer shops. Until this year, I just kept these cards laying around. One day last spring, however, I looked at the roundtable in my office and was inspired.

I realized that I could use the shape of the table to organize a display of cards and, with some cardholder sleeves, a scissors, and some extra-clear Scotch tape, make a huge Cubs “C” out of Cubs baseball cards. The first thing I did was get a bunch of standard 3 X 3 vinyl cardholder sheets. I then cut each vinyl sheet vertically into three separate columns, each holding three cards.

I then temporarily attached each column (already filled with cards) to the table, so that the straight edge of the outermost card fit as closely as possible with the curved edge of the table. I used masking tape to keep the first column (and every few columns thereafter) in place. I used small pieces of Scotch tape to connect adjacent columns to each other, so that all the columns would eventually form one single piece.

Note that the cards touching the outer edge of the table will be fully visible without being “eclipsed” by adjacent cards. The cards midway down in each column will be slightly eclipsed by the neighboring cards, and the cards nearest the center of the table will have nearly half of their surface eclipsed by neighboring cards. I therefore decided to reserve the outermost slots for the most prominent Cubs (Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Jake Arrieta, as shown above), with less well-known players generally confined to the innermost layer. Because so much of each innermost card was obscured, it was a real challenge making sure nobody’s face got cut off!

More exciting than creating the structure to hold the cards, of course, was acquiring the necessary cards themselves. Of the 120 cards (40 columns of three) needed to fill in the slots, I probably had only one-third that many at the start. A couple of trips to a local card store brought up my total somewhat, but to finish the project by the end of the summer, I also needed to shop online. I had two main guidelines for which players’ cards to obtain: (1) I wanted to have a card of every member of the 2016 World Series championship team (including manager Joe Maddon); and (2) I wanted to have cards for who would be considered every significant Cub of the last 50 years. Nearly all of the cards I purchased at the stores and over the Internet cost between 40-50 cents. Occasionally I had to splurge for cards worth $1 or so!

Most days during the summer, I put in 10-15 minutes of work on the project, although as things neared completion I put in longer stints. The circle began to grow, as illustrated in the near-complete design in the following picture. Most players appear only once in the “C,” but of those who appear multiple times, their cards are always from different years. Hence, there are no exact duplicates in the “C.” There are at least three Ron Santo cards in the mix.

One tricky issue is that, if I placed the tops of the baseball cards (i.e., where the players’ heads were) by the edge of the table all the way around, the cards at the bottom of the “C” would be upside-down. What I did, therefore, was change the orientation of the cards halfway through the “C” (after 20 columns). This is illustrated in the next two images, one a schematic of the process and the other, a close-up of the actual cards.

By switching after 20 columns from having the players’ heads toward the outer edge of the table to having their feet toward the outer edge, players at the top and bottom of the “C” came out rightside-up.

Once all the card slots were filled and the columns taped together, it was time to apply a red cardboard background to the design. I cut up a bunch of red rectangles and linked them together underneath the baseball cards. I used a lot of masking tape on the underside of the red cardboard to keep the pieces connected in a sturdy manner, and I used double-sided Scotch tape to affix the baseball-card part to the underlying cardboard.

Finally, it was time to place the “C” on one of the walls in my office, which I accomplished using red push-pin tacks at various points in the red outline.

I feel I largely accomplished my mission to include all of the significant Cubs of the past 50 years. Hall of Famers  Ernie Banks, Andre “Hawk” Dawson, Leo Durocher (manager), Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux, Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Bruce Sutter, and Billy Williams all appear in the “C.”

All-Star players and fan favorites of the different decades also appear. A non-comprehensive list of the players in the “C” includes:

  • Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, and Don Kessinger, who bridged the 1960s and ’70s; along with their teammate Jim Hickman, a trivia-question answer as the player whose hit led to Pete Rose’s run-scoring collision with catcher Ray Fosse to end the 1970 All-Star Game.
  • 1970s favorites Rick Reuschel (1972-1981, 1983-1984) and Manny Trillo (1975-1978 and 1986-1988). They are among the Cubs whose names are referenced in the play “Bleacher Bums.”
  • Star 1980s pitchers Rick Sutcliffe and Lee Smith, and catcher Jody Davis.
  • 1990s mainstay Mark Grace, and Kerry Wood, who came on spectacularly in 1998 and pitched all or parts of 12 seasons on the North Side.
  • Mark Prior, Ryan Dempster, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee  of the 2000-aughts.
  • Joe Girardi, who came from Northwestern University to play two stints with the Cubs (1989-1992 and 2000-2002).

Sammy Sosa, though tainted by steroids, is included, as are three players who will probably best be remembered for defensive difficulties on particular plays: Moises Alou, involved in the Steve Bartman play vs. Florida in the 2003 NLCS; Leon “Bull” Durham, who let a key grounder go through his legs in the 1984 NLCS vs. San Diego; and Don Young, who failed to catch a couple of fly balls in a crucial 1969 series vs. the Mets. As bitter as some of the memories involving these players are, they are still very much a part of modern Cubs history. So is Keith Moreland, who is mentioned (not favorably) in the classic Steve Goodman song, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”

A couple of cards exceeded the scope of the past 50 years: Joey Amalfitano (Cubs player 1964-1967, coach 1967–1971 and 1978–1979, and manager 1979-1981), and a reissued Frank Chance (1898-1912) of “Tinker to Evers to Chance” fame.

In reflecting on whether I missed some players I should have included, one that came to mind was Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock. His Cubs’ stint was brief (1974-1976), but it included two National League batting titles. My Texas Tech colleague and fellow Cubs fanatic Michael O’Boyle suggested I add Dave Kingman.

Also, if 2018 late-season acquisitions Cole Hamels and Daniel Murphy keep up their hot play, I’ll have to add them (Yu Darvish remains an open question). The nice thing about the cardholder sleeves I used is that I should be able to change some of the players in the “C” without much problem.

I would think fans of other teams could create similar displays. However, logos featuring letters with diagonal components (such as “A” or “M”) would probably be harder to bring about.

Teachers can even use the story of the baseball-card “C” to illustrate the formula for the circumference of a circle (2 * pi * r). The table’s diameter is 46 inches (to the precision I could measure it), so its radius is 23 inches. The formula yields a circumference of 144.5 inches.  My “C” did not, of course, form a full circle, but I determined that it would take the widths of approximately 51 cards (compared to the 40 comprising the “C”) to complete the circle along the table’s edge. With each card having a width of approximately 2 3/4 inches, summing the card-widths around the table yields 140.25 inches. The difference between the actual circumference of the table (144.5) and the approximation by baseball cards (140.25) stems from the cards’ straight-edge widths being an imperfect fit for the table’s curved edge. A mathematical principle states that the match would improve as each baseball card (hypothetically) got narrower.

Coming Out of the Closet

Most of us have participated in debates and discussions pertaining to the best way to store cards. The “boxes versus binders” debate is one that isn’t likely to ever see consensus. No matter the method of preservation, the cards must occupy a physical space. The storage conundrum becomes more acute if your collection spans over a half-century. Furthermore, if you are an “omnivore” collector–someone who collects anything sports related–your home may resemble that of the Collyer brothers.

Collyer

Attempting to ward off an intervention for hoarder’s syndrome, I have spent the last two summers working on storage solutions. Fortunately, my son moved out in the spring, freeing up a large closet. This enabled me to move all my publications, media guides, programs and other miscellaneous objects out of the card closet.

Photo 1

Photo 2

The card closet is long and narrow with a severely slanted wall, due to the house being a Cape Cod style. This provides me with four rows of binder shelving stretching for 10 feet. Additionally, there are two three-tiered book cases at each end and an old hi-fi cabinet. Plus, there is a two-shelf, three-foot homemade case.

Photo 3

Photo 4

I augmented the binder space by adding an old library book cart and freeing up two book case shelves. The space behind the book cart lends itself to binder storage on the floor, which I have filled with “junk wax” era football, basketball and hockey. Adding a homemade shelf will double the capacity.

Photo 5

In theory, I’ve bought a few more years before having to rethink binder storage. Of course, it all depends on my rate of acquisition.

Thanks to Jeff Katz’s post on the potential dire ramifications of publicizing one’s collectibles, I will probably be burgled and not have to worry about future storage. My paranoia now “runs deep.” Thanks for making me keep my “guard” dog, Yaz, in the closet, Jeff.

Yaz

Leaching on Rick Leach

Rick Leach

“Graybeards” — like myself — may remember when the nine-pocket, plastic storage pages first emerged on the scene. I discovered them in the early ‘80s and couldn’t wait to transfer my collection from boxes to binders. As with many innovative products, there are always kinks to be worked out. In this case, the type of plastic used (Polyvinyl chloride or PVC) was not ideal.

At risk of being eviscerated by chemistry experts in the vast blogosphere, I will attempt to explain what happens to PVC pages over time. Plasticizing agents (phthalates) — which makes PVC plastic soft and pliable — tend to leach out over time. This results in an oily film on the page that can adhere to the cards and may pull ink off when the card is removed. Additionally, the pages become stiff, wrinkled and stick together. Essentially, PVC plastic is returning to its normal, rigid state. Hard sleeves are usually made from PVC plastic and are fine for long term storage.

I recently acquired a complete 1981 Fleer set in pages. Perhaps the reason this set sold so cheaply was the undisclosed fact that the pages were PVC. I don’t see any obvious discoloration or damage to the cards, but of course this set is notorious for having dark, blurry photos to start with.

PVC Side-load

If leaching chemicals wasn’t quirky enough, the early pages were side-loaders.   The first two rows required pushing cards in from the right and the last row from the left. Cards tended to spill out, so top- loaders soon became standard.

Modern Side-loader

By the way, side-loaders are still available. I found this out by purchasing two boxes without stopping to read the small print. The modern pages are tighter, so the cards don’t move. It is difficult to load them after decades of putting cards in from the top. The side-loaders are a solution for the odd sized disc cards, since they fit in with only a small edge sticking out, though they tend to slide out.

Odd Page Sizes

Another oddity associated with the early pages was the variation in size. The differing dimensions offered by various companies could result in a mishmash of pages in a single binder. Plus, the three ring holes didn’t always line up.

Fleer Stickers 2

I still have a few cards and stickers in PVC pages. For instance, my early ‘70s Fleer stickers are still entombed in PVC, since the sticky nature of the pages may pull the stickers loose from the backing. Also, I recently discovered some miscellaneous Mariners singles from the ‘90s still in PVC.

We should all sing the praises of Ultra Pro and their standard sized pages made from non-leaching polyethylene. Remember, we all enjoy “better collecting through chemistry.”